The Spectacle Blog

Park Service Talked to the White House Before Erecting Barricades

By on 10.16.13 | 2:49PM

The government may be shut down but the House Oversight Committee and Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) were working today, holding a hearing to find out firsthand what went awry in the aftermath of the shutdown.

During the hearing titled “As Difficult as Possible: The National Park Service’s Implementation of the Government Shutdown,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said that he spoke with the White House and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell “several times on the phone” when presenting his decision to barricade the monuments, but that “it was never the reverse, there was never a decision coming in.”

There has been no shortage of outrage during the shutdown, particularly over the government prohibiting the public to enjoy certain monuments, open-air memorials, and national parks. This was demonstrated best when veterans stormed the barricades at the World War II Memorial last weekend.

Darrell Issa stated in his opening that the National Park Service (NPS) has taken “punitive measures at no savings for the American people” and questioned the NPS’s spending of money to stop commerce.

Thus, for the Republican side, the recurring question was this: Why aren’t things working the same way they did during the last shutdown in 1995? Back then, the states were allowed to get involved and raise the basic funds to reopen parks as they saw fit for commerce.

Mayor Greg Bryan of Tusayan, Arizona testified on this issue and described the state of affairs back in 1995:

Bruce Babbitt and Arizona Governor Symington worked out a deal where state and private funds were used to enable a limited reopening of the park until a federal budget was passed and the government reopened. Our town council authorized the use of $200,000 in town funds to assist in the reopening the park or Highway 64 through the park.

Bryan observed that things have not been the same this time around and estimated that in the first seven days of the shutdown Tusayan lost over a million dollars in revenue—crippling for a town that depends on tourism to the nearby Grand Canyon.

“We were told either all the parks open or none of the parks open,” Bryan said.

On the Democrat side, blaming Republicans continues to be the modus operandi.

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) followed Issa’s opening by fingering House Speaker Boehner and Republicans for the government shutdown rather than addressing NPS behavior. Instead of taking the “reasonable course of action” and ending the shutdown, Cummings said, “House Republicans today want to focus on restricted access to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.”

He yielded to Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who called the shutdown the “Seinfeld shutdown” and the hearing “at best nonsensical.” DeFazio then asked the Republicans present to look at him. Once they did he held up a mirror and asked the rhetorical question: Who is responsible for all of this?

Once the proceedings were in full swing Jarvis was grilled by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Gowdy mentioned that Occupy protesters camped in McPherson Square for the span of 100 days two years back, but that not a single arrest was made. He asked, “Why didn’t you enforce the law at McPherson Square, but put up barricades on the first day on a monument that veterans helped build?”

When asked for a particular citation or legal reason for putting up barricades, Jarvis cited the Antideficiency Act, and said "given the limited staff resources during the shutdown, prudent and practical steps were taken to secure life and property at these national icons where security has become increasingly complex in a post-9/11 world."

It should be noted that Jarvis was subpoenaed to appear before the committee.

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